By Mike Pilosof
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El Dorado, KS-On Sept. 20, 1947, Garden City toppled Pratt 13-2 for the program's first collegiate victory. 71 years later, the Broncbusters notched an historic feat, and somehow you would have to believe it was much more satisfying than a win over the Beavers.
Garden City picked off Butler quarterback Chris Helbig five times, Terry Wilson rushed for two touchdowns, and the Broncbusters took down 12th-ranked Butler 36-30 Saturday night at BG Products Veteran Sports Complex. It was the program's 400th win.
"This is for all of the guys that have been with this program since the beginning," Sims said. "There were so many coaches before me that set the foundation."
The final numbers will tell a different story, but the Broncbuster defense made an emphatic statement. The Grizzlies ran 86 plays and held the ball for nearly 35 minutes; yet, Garden City (3-2, 2-2) never showed an ounce of fatigue, holding Butler to just 4.5 yard per play.
"We weren't tired because we run all the time in practice," defensive back Warren Saba said. "It was just another day at the office."
Earlier in the week, Saba had an interesting conversation with his dad.
"He wanted me to watch guys like Josh Norman," he said. "I wanted to do what I do but watch their technique."
On Saturday, Saba looked every bit as good as the Washington Redskins all-pro corner.
After the Broncbusters marched 75 yards in five plays to tie the game on Wilson's sensational 33-yard touchdown dash, it was Saba quieting the crowd with one subtle move.
Butler (3-2, 2-2) had moved the ball to the Garden City 40 on their second possession. But on first-and-10, Saba jumped in front of wide receiver Kendall Stewart, intercepted the pass, and raced 64 yards to the Grizzlies 1-yard line.
"I normally don't single guys out," Sims said. "But I told the team that they needed to watch exactly what Warren did tonight. He gave unbelievable effort."
One play later, Charles West took an option pitch from Wilson and walked into the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
The nightmare first quarter was just beginning for Helbig.
The next time the Grizzlies had the ball, the freshman quarterback dropped to throw in his own end zone. As he fired right, defensive lineman Auston Robertson batted the ball into the air, and linebacker Brandon Mincey caught it for a touchdown. After an illegal substitution penalty against Butler on the extra-point attempt, the Broncbusters kept the offense on the field. Wilson hit Kahari Foy-Walton for the two-point conversion, giving Garden City a 22-7 advantage with 6:20 left in the first quarter.
"Coaches lose games, and players win them," Sims said. "Our players won this game. It wasn't great from an execution standpoint at times, but it was our best game in terms of effort."
After playing to a stalemate over the next 10 minutes, Butler finally got the big play they had been looking for the entire first half.
With less than six minutes to play in the second quarter, Helbig connected with Stewart on a 65-yard touchdown pass. On the play, the sophomore, who grew up in Wichita and played at Maize, type roped the right sideline, cutting the Garden City lead to 22-14.
"During the course of the game, things happen," Sims said. "It wasn't perfect, but we feel much better now."
Winning a game over a team that appeared rather invincible at home will do that to someone. Doing it for the second time in three years, now that's saying something. The grin on Sims face said it all.
"I'm 5-1 against Butler since 2008," he said with a chuckle. "But I didn't do this alone. We have a great staff, and these players won the game."
With the momentum hanging in the balance, Wilson put the Broncbusters on his back on Garden City's first possession of the third quarter.
Facing a third-and-7 at the Butler 49, Wilson dropped back and scanned the defense. With nothing there, the freshman took off, sprinting past the nation's 19th-best defense en route to his longest touchdown run of his career. That score was definitely a jolt, and it gave the Broncbusters a 29-14 edge with 13:59 to go in the period.
"Terry did all the right things to win a football game," Sims said. "That's what we needed him to do."
With Butler threatening on their next drive, it was the defense making another back-breaking play.
The Grizzlies methodically marched from their own 26 to the Garden City 28. But on first-and-10, Jakobe Sheffield snagged Helbig's rainbow pass intended for Gerrit Prince, thwarting the Grizzlies' drive at the 3 yard line.
"We did what we were capable of on defense," Saba said.
The celebration was short lived after Garden City punted from their own 1. Seven plays later, Helbig hit Prince in the back-right corner of the end zone, pulling the Grizzlies to within eight with 5:13 remaining in the third.
On Butler's first possession of the final frame, the Grizzlies converted three third downs, the last of which resulted in six points when Helbig found Prince in the end zone. But the play of the game happened on the ensuing two-point conversion when Saba knocked down a slant intended for Prince.
"How about that play," Sims said. "Out of all the plays that he made, that was his best."
It preserved a 29-27 lead with 11:44 to play in the game, but Saba was far from finished.
Butler had a couple of chances to take the lead. But early in the final quarter, Saba snatched his second pick of the night when he reeled in a wobbly Helbig pass at the Grizzlies 45 and danced all the way to the 3. Three plays later, Wilson found Daniel Davis for a one-yard score, and the Broncbusters had a 36-29 advantage.
"I didn't agree with the call by Coach (Stephen) Shimko," Sims said. "But hats off to him for doing it. And of course I trust "Bug" (Davis).
The Grizzlies sliced the Broncbusters lead to six on Luke Winter's 33-yard field goal with 3:44 to go, setting up another wild finish between the longstanding rivals.
Following a Garden City punt, Butler had one last chance to win the game with less than a minute to play and no timeouts. But on first-and-10 from his own 14, Helbig floated a wounded duck down the left sideline that Meiko Dotson deflected, and Andreus Price intercepted, sealing Garden City's second victory in El Dorado since 1999.
"These guys have to buy in and believe what we're trying to teach them," Sims said. "That's what last year's team did. But people forget, last year's team took two years to come together. These guys have been together now for five games."
The five turnovers forced by Josh Hager's defense was the most in a game since week one last year when they had five vs. Ellsworth.
"I'm very proud of these guys and the way they responded," Sims said.
Wilson was 14-of-28 for 96 yards and a touchdown. But his impact was felt more on the ground, carrying the ball 15 times for 98 and two scores. Nigel Kilby caught a team-best five balls for 41 yards.
Helbig was 20-of-46 for 266 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions for Butler, who lost their first home game since Sept. 25, 2016 against Dodge City. Kevon Abrams recorded his ninth-career 100-yard rushing game, totaling 110 yards on 25 carries with one touchdown. Stewart caught three passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Notes: Butler still leads the all-tine series 40-39-3…Garden City became the first Jayhawk Conference school since the Broncbusters and Coffeyville back in 1997 to beat the Grizzlies three straight years…The loss was only the sixth for the Grizzlies since moving into their new stadium in 2012…The Broncbusters won the game despite picking up only two first downs over the final 30 minutes of the game…Garden City improved to 5-1 vs. top 20 opponents under Sims…Sims is now 12-10 all-time vs. ranked teams
Next up: Garden City vs. Coffeyville, Saturday, October 7-6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app